Top of the Agenda: Fighting in Syria Flares Amid Peace Efforts
Fighting erupted (NYT) between Syrian government forces and rebels in the north and center of the country, days after Assad vowed to implement a UN-Arab League peace plan developed by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan. The international Friends of Syria coalition is set to hold a meeting on the situation in Istanbul on Sunday. Meanwhile, Reuters is reporting that Iran has aided Syria in circumventing Western sanctions by providing a vessel to transport Syrian oil to a state-run oil company in China. The deal has potentially provided the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with around $80 million.
"This plan by Kofi Annan drops any mentions of Assad leaving power. It basically only calls for the Assad regime to stop killing people. It also calls on the opposition to cease any attacks on government forces. So this is more of a cease-fire that carries very little consequences for the Assad regime. It is almost a perfect plan for Assad to accept," notes CFR's Mohamad Bazzi in this CFR Interview.
"The clash between Turkey and Iran has been more than just rhetorical. Tehran has been Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's biggest supporter, whereas Ankara has come to condemn the regime's 'barbarism' and put its weight behind the opposition, hosting the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army, the rebel government and army in exile," writes Mustafa Akyol for Foreign Affairs.
"Kofi Annan, the Arab League and UN envoy, for want of a better solution, hopes to coax the regime into opening talks with the opposition. Mr Assad has said he is willing, but lacks a recognizable partner to talk to. His claim is not entirely spurious. The SNC has burned up much of its energy trying to unite the myriad factions thrown up by an already sectarian society," says the Economist.
Japan Threatens North Korea Over Rocket Launch
Japanese Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka deployed missile defense systems to intercept a planned rocket launch (al-Jazeera) by North Korea next month if it flies over Japan. The launch is expected to take place between April 12 and April 16.
MYANMAR: Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, set to stand in a parliamentary by-election on April 1, said the vote would not be "genuinely free and fair" (BBC). Suu Kyi, the head of the National League for Democracy, is expected to win the seat in the Kawhmu Township.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
Bin Laden Had Five Safe Houses in Pakistan
Former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden moved among five safe houses in Pakistan and fathered four children during the nine years following September 11, before he was killed in an attack by U.S. Special Forces last year, according to testimony by his youngest widow, Amal Ahmad Abdul Fateh. Bin Laden's three widows are currently under house arrest (NYT) in Islamabad.
Pakistan has emerged as a terrorist sanctuary for some of the world's most violent groups, including al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and homegrown militants, that threaten the stability of Pakistan as well as the region, explains this CFR Backgrounder.
A U.S. drone strike (AFP) on a suspected militant compound in the North Waziristan tribal region, near the Afghan border, killed four people early today.
Israeli Forces Clash With Palestinian Land Day Protesters
Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian protesters at a West Bank checkpoint near Jerusalem, as Palestinians and Arab Israelis marked Land Day (CNN). The annual event commemorates the death of six Arab Israeli demonstrators who died protesting over Israeli land confiscation policies.
The Economic Community of West African States threatened to close all land borders with Mali (SAPA/AP) and freeze the nation's financial assets if the mutinous soldiers that overthrew the country's president last week do not step aside. Meanwhile, Tuareg rebels advanced in northern Mali.
French police arrested nineteen suspected Islamist radicals (WSJ) throughout France--including Toulouse, where a self-proclaimed al-Qaeda affiliate killed four people at a Jewish school earlier this month--and seized weapons in a raid this morning, French President Nicolas Sarkozy confirmed.
Recent anti-Germany protests in Athens have highlighted the country's complicated role as de facto leader of Europe while raising concerns about the continent's ability to advance difficult solutions to the sovereign debt crisis, explains this CFR Analysis Brief.
COLOMBIA: Lawmakers put forward legislation that would decriminalize the cultivation of the coca leaf (BBC)--used in the production of cocaine--and marijuana, in an effort to undermine drug traffickers. However, the country's justice minister warned such a policy would violate international narcotics treaties.
Santorum, Romney Make Foreign Policy Push
In what was billed as a major foreign policy address (AP) Thursday, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum criticized the Obama administration, saying it has been too slow to address Iran's nuclear threat, has ignored its ally Israel, and rushes to engage in diplomacy with U.S. enemies.